Monthly Archives: December 2009

Wine-poached pear tart

No kitchen is complete without Julia!

I have a theory, after reading Martha Stewart Living for many years, that she has simplified her gourmet recipes. I call it the Rachael Ray effect – modern cooks want great-tasting meals without all the gourmet techniques. And then Julia happened. Oh, Julia. Julia, Julia. After a certain blog-turned-book-turned-movie came out, who hasn’t been attempting Julia Child’s wonderful pastries and roasts in their so-not-French kitchens? I must say that Julia was not writing for the at-home cook. Or at least not the modern cook, who wants easy, healthy and fast recipes dumbed down to a 4th grade level.

Today will be known as the day I attempted my very first Julia Child recipe. Julia’s Pear Tart, which I found at another blog. It was written long and in a confusing order. I re-worked the recipe a bit, but I must warn you that this still took me ROUGHLY FOUR HOURS. From start to finish. Perfect for the holidays, if you are looking for an excuse to spend time away from the family. Also perfect for a free Sunday morning.

Julia Child’s Pear Tart, adapted by WriteGal

Make the sugar crust:

1 1/3 c. flour

7 T sugar

1/8 tsp baking powder

5 T butter, chilled, diced

2 T shortening

1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water

1/2 tsp vanilla

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder. In food processor, add butter and shortening, pulsing, until it resembles oatmeal flakes. Add egg and vanilla until dough forms a ball. Flatten into a disk and chill until firm, 1 hour to 3 days (if making ahead).

For the frangipane (I had never used this cooking method before, so I really had to trust Julia!):

1/2 c. toasted almonds, pulverized in food processor

1 large egg

1 egg yolk

3/4 c. sugar

1/3 c. flour

1 c. whole milk

3 T butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

Whisk egg and yolk in large bowl (KitchenAid) until combined. Gradually add sugar and beat untilĀ  pale yellow – 3 min. Beat in flour.

Heat milk in medium pot until scalded, temper into egg mixture, then pour all into egg bowl, whisking vigorously.

Pour milk-egg mixture back in the saucepot over moderate heat. Stir slowly until mixture thickens and coagulates into a stiff paste. NOTE: You will think you are doing this wrong because you’ll scrape up big globs from the bottom of the pot. Just keep stirring until it looks like some sort of gummy paste. Mom said it was like wallpaper paste. Beat vigorously with a whisk over low heat for 2-3 min. to cook the flour. Your arm will be sore! Take it off the heat and mix in butter, vanilla, almond extract, almonds. Let cool to room temp. Cover with a buttered parchment paper to prevent a skin from forming.

It looks like peanut butter!

Now, bake the crust. Heat oven to 375.

On a floured surface, roll out chilled dough to 1/8 in. and transfer to false-bottomed tart pan (8 or 9 inches is fine). Press into corners and fold 1/2 in. over the edges. Trim excess.

Line tart with buttered foil and fill with uncooked rice, beans or pie weights. I used barley. Bake for 10-15 min. until just set and not sticky (mine took about 20 minutes, I couldn’t believe it!). Remove foil and weights, then cook another 7-8 min., or until lightly browned. Remove from oven to cool COMPLETELY.

For the pears:

2 c. red wine (I used merlot)

2 T fresh lemon juice

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

3-4 rip-firm pears (Mine were totally not ripe)

1/4 c. red currant jelly or other dark preserve

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine wine, lemon, sugar and cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, peel, half, stem and core the pears (melon baller is helpful). When liquid is boiling, add the pears and simmer until tender. Mine took 20 min. because they were so unripe, but yours might take 8-10 min.

The pears will become a rich ruby color and your house will smell like mulled cider. Let the pears cool in the liquid for 20 min. and then drain on a rack.

Rapidly boil the liquid down until the syrup starts to bubble like caramel, 230 degrees (I used a meat thermometer). Remove from heat and add preserves, stirring until dissolved.

Now, assemble the tart!

Paint the inside of the shell with the syrup. Fill shell with frangipane, smoothing with a spatula. Cut pears and place on top.

Lightly glaze pears with some of the remaining jelly. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

How did it taste, you ask? Very gourmet. The crust was perfectly flaky and flavorful, although some of the jelly baste dripped through and stuck to the underside. This can be remedied by simply putting buttered parchment on the bottom of the pan. The frangipane wasn’t too sweet, but had a rich nuttiness to it. The almond flavor was strong but not overpowering. In fact, the roasted almonds gave it an almost cocoa flavor, which surprised my guests to realize it had no chocolate in it. The pears tasted wonderful, just like mulled wine, and the jelly glaze was a wonderful finish. I recommend using the more tart red currant preserves because they match well with the sweetness of the other ingredients. A truly elegant dessert.

Enjoy, friends, and I hope everybody is having a happy and peaceful holiday! xoxo

Beef short ribs with cheddar polenta

Success!

These braised short ribs completely make up for my short-rib failure this past spring. Not only were they absolutely delicious, but way less high-maintenance than the previous recipe.

Seared and then braised with ancho chile powder, Worcestershire sauce and onions, the dish develops a rich broth to go with fall-off-the-bone meat. It pairs perfectly with a flavorful cheesy polenta made with garlic and thyme.

I used an Emeril Lagasse recipe, although I changed it a bit based on consumer reviews and my own tastes (for example, it does not need a whole gallon of water. We’re not making soup!). I recommend making this for Sunday supper because it cooks for three hours.

Ingredients:

2-3 lbs. beef short ribs

2 T ancho chile powder

2 T olive oil

1 T soy sauce

1 dried ancho chile

1 medium yellow onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

6 T Worcestershire sauce

6 T light brown sugar

2 T kosher salt

8 c. water

Method:

Season both sides of the ribs with chile powder and refrigerate at least one hour, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat large Dutch oven over medium. Add oil and sear ribs on all sides, in batches, if needed. With all ribs in the pot, add soy sauce, ancho chile, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, kosher salt and water. (Note: I added a glug of red wine, just because.) Bring to a simmer and adjust the seasonings to taste (add more salt). Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook until the ribs are tender and fall from the bones, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Skim fat off top (or cool, put in fridge and remove fat the next day – this only gets better a day later!)

Meanwhile, make polenta:

1 1/2 c. water

2 c. milk

2 tsp. minced garlic

1 bay leaf

2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 c. fine-grained corn meal

4 T unsalted butter

1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, combine water, milk, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and whisk in corn meal. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until it thickens, 20-25 min.

Add butter and stir until melted. Add cheeses and stir well. Adjust seasonings to taste, remove bay leaf.

To serve, on big plate or even a large bowl, scoop big portions of polenta, then add a couple beef ribs and finish with the beef broth. Sprinkle with parsley for garnish.

This made about six servings for dinner, with a small salad and bread on the side. Perfect for entertaining, or when you need something comforting on a cold day.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Eggnog cheesecake bars

I live with someone who is obsessed with eggnog. He buys a new carton nearly every time he goes to the grocery store and we currently have two different brands in the fridge. He pours himself a small glass and then shaves over some fresh nutmeg. Now that is a labor of eggnog love!

So when I saw Martha Stewart’s eggnog cheesecake recipe in her holiday issue, I knew that I had to make it. We both are lovers of cheesecake, and I knew this recipe would be wonderful with the brandy and fresh nutmeg mixed in.

This was a wildly successful recipe that I’m so happy to add to my holiday baking list. I cut the squares into bite-sized pieces so I could serve them at a party. One party-goer said she wanted to stand under the mistletoe with it.

Ingredients:

cooking spray

12 graham crackers, finely ground (1.5 c.)

3/4 c. plus 3 T sugar

4 T unsalted butter, melted

1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature

2 large eggs

1 egg yolk

3/4 c. good eggnog (we used the Fresh Market brand)

1 T plus 1 1/2 tsp. flour

1 T plus 1 tsp brandy

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg, plus more for garnish

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Coat a 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, stir together graham crackers, 3 T sugar, melted butter. Press into bottom of the pan. Bake until crust is just brown around edges, 12-15 min. Let cool.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese on med. until fluffy, 2 min. Add remaining 3/4 c. sugar, eggs, yolk, eggnog, flour, brandy, vanilla, nutmeg and salt. Beat until smooth. Pour filling over crust.

Set the dish in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake until set, 40-45 min. Remove baking dish to a wire rack to cool 30 min. Refrigerate at least three hours or overnight.

Cut into bars and grate fresh nutmeg over the tops to serve. These keep for five days in the fridge…but I promise they won’t last long. A fool-proof recipe!

Please enjoy, I know that I am! Xoxo

Garlic-sizzled chicken wings

I love to eat chicken wings in smoky bars late at night, but they’ve never been something I considered making at home. When a party is involved, however, you have to turn to what works – and chicken wings are the perfect finger food. So I learned, when I made these garlic-sizzled chicken wings.

I first saw the recipe on We Are Not Martha, and I figured if these ladies can do it, so can I! It actually was super simple and EVERYBODY at the Christmas Sweater Party loved them. The only bad part was cutting up the chicken wings, which I did with my French chef’s knife. A heavy bone cleaver would have been better…Santa?

These things are covered in garlic, but you’ll be surprised how not-overpowering it is. Perhaps it’s the paprika rub or the way they steam in brandy at the end. It’s just a good combination. I’ll be making these for my next party.

Ingredients:

2-3 lbs. chicken wings, tips removed and divided between the two joints (drumette and wing)

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 1/2 tsp. paprika

8 cloves of garlic, chopped, 2 cloves of garlic whole

5 T olive oil

1 bay leaf

1/2 c. brandy

Chopped parsley, for garnish

Rub the chicken with paprika, salt and pepper.

Heat large frying pan over medium and add oil. Add chicken and two smashed cloves of garlic, skins still on. Fry until chicken is golden on both sides. Add chopped garlic and saute for until golden. Add the brandy and bay leaf and continue cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed and chicken is tender, 15-20 min. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with parsley.

That’s it, my friends. And it’s finger-licking good.

Enjoy! xoxo

Christmas in the Empire State

This always happens to me. I get all excited about Christmas, make all these plans for the delicious dishes and cookies I will be making, promise to blog about all my seasonal exploits and start listening to holiday music nonstop. This year was a record – I tired of all that stuff by Dec. 9.

I’m trying to reinvigorate my culinary sensibilities, however, and tomorrow’s tacky Christmas sweater party might give me an excuse (I’m bringing garlic-sizzled chicken wings and eggnog cheesecake squares).

Meanwhile, I spent last weekend on a dreamlike mini-vacation with a bunch of my girlfriends in New York City. We saw the city in all its holiday splendor, shopped ’til we dropped, stayed up way too late and abused our feet. I even lost my voice!

We also ate a ton of amazing food. Let me take you on our Big Apple culinary adventure:

The best pizza I have ever had in my life was at Artichoke, near Union Square. It was $4 a slice and worth every overpriced bite. Creamy cheeses oozed out of it – we were in heaven as we ate, standing on a dirty sidewalk pocked with old gum.

Artichoke/spinach pizza

While waiting to meet up with friends, Heidi and I enjoyed a few drinks and an appetizer of gnocci at Aroma, a wine bar in lower Manhattan. The wannabe actor-waiter was nice eye candy. šŸ™‚

Cocktails and an app. at Aroma

All weekend, my two girlfriends and I stayed with my cousin, who lives in an Italian neighborhood (Guidos and Guidettes). She was surrounded by Italian delis, bakeries and markets. We had brunch at one deli/bakery (I couldn’t help saying, “leave the gun, take the cannoli”):

Pastries like you wouldn't believe!

They had a menu full of cured meats that I hadn’t even tasted of before. This is the sandwich menu…

We all ordered sandwiches piled high with fresh ingredients. I got house-made prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes.

Later, we wrote Christmas cards at The Little Cupcake Shop (when in Rome):

Lemon cupcake

They had apple cider, cookie dough, gingerbread and pumpkin flavors!

Later that night, we went out to eat in Little Italy, where an old man told us that we all looked like “flowers, sent down from God.” Then he blew us a kiss and touched his heart. Gotta love older Italian men! After that, we went to a bar that was serving all-you-can-drink mojitos for $20 a head (drinks were normally $9 each)…which of course we took advantage of, and then got the crazy idea to go to Times Square at 2 a.m. This was a good seven subway stops away, and like an hour away from home. Still, we carried on, some of us ate hot dogs and we slunk back, too tired to do much more than giggle.

The next morning, we slept it off and had bagels from a shop down the street that had a bunch of neat cream cheese flavors.

Bagel as big as my head

Our last day, we ate at a French cafe near Rockefeller Center…

Fresh berry tart

Tea and espresso

This was one of my very best vacations in a long time. Just goes to show that the company you keep really impacts how your vacation experience will be. I think all of us need to have a lovely weekend in New York City at least once in our lives – it is at once exhilirating and utterly exhausting.

Just stay away from Macy’s – that place is madness. Cheers, friends. xoxo

Top Chef – Vegas finale

Le sigh…

I won’t say who won Top Chef, just in case any of you haven’t seen it. All I want to say is that I heart Bryan Voltaggio.

Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, Top Chef

He can cook me sardines any time! Now I just need to figure out how to get to MD to eat at his restaurant….

You can follow the brothers on their blog, Voltaggio Brothers.